Why Rick Stone can leave Huddersfield with his head held high

There are some instances in life where you simply cannot win.

In many ways, Rick Stone found himself in that predicament during his near two-year tenure at Huddersfield.

The Australian was sacked by the Giants on Tuesday, bringing an end to an uphill battle the coach was just about seeing the top of before having his feet taken from underneath him.

His time in charge at the club has been a mixed bag. The same shortcomings, most evidently a dreadful lack of consistency, has proved to be particularly frustrating for the Giants faithful, while a lack of strike in attack has meant they haven’t always been easy on the eye. Despite that, Stone has produced results during his time in charge.

He arrived at the Giants with the club in dire straights. On the field, the club was facing a battle against relegation after a terrible start to the year.

His initial goal was to keep the club in the top flight, an objective he accomplished as they avoided the Million Pound Game by the skin of their teeth.

But that was just the beginning of Stone’s problems. Recruitment overhanging before his arrival ultimately meant he inherited a squad that wasn’t his own and gave him little chance to mould to his style.

The spare cap space the Giants had in the months leading up to his arrival was taken up by three signings in the shape of Gene Ormsby, Tom Symonds and Ryan Brierley. They were signings that, for whatever reason, did not work out. Between them, they made 29 appearances during Stone’s tenure but took up a significant amount of the club’s wage bill during his time at the club.

Lee Gaskell had already been targeted as a signing for 2017 under the previous regime, which further restricted Stone’s ability to sign his own players.

As a result, Stone was left with an unenviable task of getting players out of the door as pre-season got underway in order to get players in he desired.

The club managed to do that. Jamie Ellis was shipped out to Hull KR for the season, Craig Huby was allowed to leave for Wakefield and Eorl Crabtree’s retirement opened up some room to manoeuvre.

But even then, the issues weren’t over, the club managed to sign one of Stone’s top target, Jake Mamo, but only by allowing Joe Wardle to go the other way to Newcastle Knights. Shannon Wakeman was also brought in, but the squad was low on numbers. As a result, they signed Adam O’Brien, Paul Clough and Alex Mellor, who had been a part of the Bradford Bulls side that finished fifth in the Championship the year before.

With a turbulent pre-season, the Giants started slowly. But ultimately they defied all expectations by finishing in the top eight.

Key to that success were both Mamo and Wakeman. Mamo’s introduction to the side coincided with an upturn in form, with his 12-try haul in nine appearances catapulting them into the top eight. Wakeman, meanwhile, grew in stature as the season progressed, performing well alongside Seb Ikahihifo who, it should be noted, was also signed before Stone’s arrival.

Jordan Rankin and Jordan Turner were also signed mid-season following Brierley’s departure to Toronto Wolfpack, and suddenly Stone was slowly starting to build his own side.

Their arrivals prevented further acquisitions ahead of 2018, with existing members of the squad still on long-term deals.

But many of those contracts were set to expire at the end of the current season, which would, for the first time, finally allow Stone and the Giants to be competitive in the transfer market when business was at its highest.

The club was pro-active in its efforts to tie down some of its key stars. Ikahihifo and Oliver Roberts penned new long-term deals while Danny Brough was handed a one-year extension. Promising youngster Sam Wood committed to the club on a multi-year deal and Clough also extended his stay.

But perhaps the writing was on the wall. Despite the club retaining players for the years to come, they hadn’t tied down their coach. Stone’s contract was up at the end of the year and there had been no discussions over a new deal. Ultimately a return of two wins in seven games proved to move the club into action. In hindsight, you might suspect the Giants hierarchy had already decided he didn’t feature in their long-term vision, and their start to the season, which has seen them ship more points than any other side and struggle with the ball in hand too, has only brought his departure date forward.

Stone’s overriding feeling following his sacking is probably one of frustration. He has every right to feel that way too. After overcoming so much adversity, his opportunity to finally stamp his authority on the club and the squad has been taken away from him. That said, with May looming and players free to speak to other clubs, the Giants were wise to make the call if Stone didn’t fit into their plans. As a result, it will avoid the next person in charge facing similar difficulties to Stone from a salary cap perspective.

But that shouldn’t overshadow Stone’s achievements during his time at the club, even if they were under-appreciated and hard to see from the outside. Whoever takes over from Stone picks up a team in a much better position than he did, despite their disappointing start to the campaign.

That shouldn’t be forgotten.